By Senator Dianne FeinsteinOn a chain-link fence outside Well No. 2 in Rialto, a sign reads, "Closed for perchlorate contamination." This well was deemed unsafe, because a chemical used for years in rocket fuel has seeped into the soil and contaminated the groundwater.
But this isn't an isolated incident. Today, perchlorate contamination is found in the drinking water of 35 states and the District of Columbia.
That's why we need:
- $50 million for perchlorate contamination cleanup.
- A strong national drinking water standard for perchlorate contamination set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The Defense Department to come to terms with its legacy of contamination.
And perchlorate contamination has also entered the food chain. It was first detected in crops such as lettuce, wheat and tomato. Scientists have also found perchlorate contamination in human breast milk and dairy milk. Most recently, a Canadian study found perchlorate contamination in fruits and vegetables grown all over the world - even in countries without perchlorate-contaminated water.
The true scope of perchlorate contamination is still unknown. But in the meantime, we must take steps to protect our communities from perchlorate contamination, so they can have access to water that is safe and clean.
On Thursday, I joined with Rep. Richard Pombo to authorize $50 million for cleanup of perchlorate contamination in California. The legislation will give priority to those communities most affected by the contamination.
Perchlorate contamination has placed an enormous burden on California's communities. It forced Rialto to close six of its 14 wells - nearly half of the city's water supply. Today, only two of those six wells are clean enough to provide safe drinking water.
Perchlorate contamination cleanup is costly, and many of our local communities cannot afford the steep price. So, this $50 million will go a long way toward helping pay for perchlorate contamination cleanup. The legislation also authorizes $8 million for research and development of cheaper, more efficient cleanup technologies.
The Environmental Protection Agency must set a national drinking-water standard for perchlorate that is safe for both adults and children.
Perchlorate contamination of our food and water is a growing threat to public health. In sufficient doses, perchlorate has been found to interfere with the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland. Infants and children are especially susceptible to the effects of perchlorate, because the thyroid plays a critical role in proper mental and physical development.
We still lack sufficient evidence about the full health impact of perchlorate contamination, particularly on pregnant women, infants and children. But it would be a serious mistake to gamble with the health of thousands of Americans by putting this issue on the back burner.
Just last month, the EPA issued a preliminary remediation goal for perchlorate cleanup at 24.5 parts per billion, four times higher that California's public health goal. It also wrongly assumes that perchlorate contamination is found only in drinking water.
This preliminary standard is unacceptable and could put the health of thousands of Americans at risk. So, I strongly urge the EPA to reconsider this decision and move forward with a national standard that will put safe and clean drinking water in every home in America.
The time has come for the Defense Department to clean up groundwater and drinking-water sources polluted by perchlorate contamination.
Most perchlorate contamination comes from defense-related activities, so the Defense Department has two critical responsibilities to the American people.
First, the department must clean up perchlorate contamination from these defense-related activities. And second, the Defense Department must perform exhaustive studies on the real health impact of perchlorate, as required by Congress. Continued delay is recklessly endangering the nation's public health.
So far, both the Defense Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed to recognize the gravity of perchlorate contamination. In the meantime, communities in California have been forced to suffer the financial burden of trying to provide safe drinking water for their residents.
That is why concerted national action must be taken now. The longer the delay, the more Americans will be exposed to the potential dangers of this toxic chemical.